How Not to Handle Administrative Suspension

/ 02.Jul, 2014
Two recent disciplinary opinions from the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania illustrate how not to handle an administrative suspension.  The Supreme Court’s imposition of harsher penalties than the Disciplinary Board’s recommendation in both cases is also interesting. Richard Kwasny In 2010, Richard Kwasny, a Yardley, Pennsylvania attorney, did not return his annual registration forms.  Kwasny was administratively suspended in November of 2010.  Pursuant to Pa.R.D.E. 217, an attorney must notify all clients, lawyers and appropriate judges if he is administratively suspended.  In February 2011, Kwasny sent in a check for his annual attorney registration fee and applicable late penalties.  Kwasny also sent a Statement of Compliance with Pa.R.D.E. 217.  Unfortunately for Kwasny, the check for payment of registration fees and late penalties bounced, and he had not taken any action to comply with Pa.R.D.E. 217. In September 2010, the PA Lawyers For Client Security Received Notice from Kwasny’s bank that an escrow account check was returned for insufficient funds.  Client Security requested explanation from Kwasny.  Kwasny explained a $16,000 check was deposited into the wrong account leading to the escrow account insufficiency.  Kwasny submitted client ledgers and copies of checks as proof.  Further investigation by Client Security found Kwasny used the $16,000 to fund his law office.  The Disciplinary Board subpoenaed bank records and client ledgers, and discovered the client ledgers previously submitted by Kwasny were altered. Kwasny filed an answer to the petition for discipline and attended a pre-hearing conference, but did not appear before the Hearing Committee for the scheduled disciplinary hearing. The Disciplinary Board found Kwasny violated RPC 1.15(b), (h), (i), and (m) (relating to protection of client funds), 5.5 (practicing law in violation of regulations of the legal profession), and 8.4 (the catchall dishonesty provision).  The Disciplinary Board also found Kwasny violated  Pa.R.D.E. 217(a)-(c).  The Disciplinary Board accepted the recommendation of the Hearing Committee that Kwasny be suspended for three years.  Board Chair Bevilacqua dissented and recommended a five years suspension.  The Supreme Court suspended Kwasny for five years. John M. Biondi In 2001-2003, John Biondi signed support orders on behalf of three clients.  The last attorney registration form returned by John Biondi was in 2010.  Because of action needed int he cases where Biondi signed support orders, Judge Doerr, the President Judge of Butler County attempted to locate Biondi in 2011, and was unable to do so.  Biondi was ordered administratively suspended in September 2011.  Biondi did not respond to the Disciplinary Board’s request for statement of respondent’s position (DB-7), and did not respond to any other attempted contact by the Disciplinary Board, or appear at any hearings.  Biondi apparently left the practice of law to open an Ice Cream parlor.  The Disciplinary Board found Biondi willfully ignored communications from the courts and the Disciplinary Board.  The Disciplinary Board recommended a suspension of four years.  Board member Leonard dissented and recommended disbarment.  The Supreme Court disbarred Biondi. The lessons of these cases are obvious.  Administrative suspension is a serious matter, and cannot be dealt with by hiding your head in the sand of lying.  These cases also underscore an apparent trend by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court toward harsher discipline. –Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire